Ten years after competing in her first dragon boat festival, Nancy Bryson will see her “dream come true” when Campbell River hosts its first regatta this weekend.
Bryson, the president and coach of Campbell River’s BraveHearts team, has paddled in competitions across B.C. and Alberta but this time around she’ll be on the home side.
“Having a dragon boat festival in our lovely community of Campbell River is a dream come true for me, and one that I am sure is shared by every member of both the BraveHearts Dragon Boat Team and Team River Spirit,” says Bryson, who was one of the original organizers of both local teams. “Almost every community in British Columbia now holds annual dragon boat festivals, so it is with great pride that Campbell River can now be included in offering this event, which can attract many competitors from outside our community.”
On Sunday, 13 teams from Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast will descend on Dick Murphy Park at the Tyee Spit and race the 350-metre course through the estuary. Races begin at 9 a.m. and continue throughout the day until approximately 4 p.m, after which, awards will be presented.
Dragon boating traces its roots back to China when ancient Chinese statesman Qu Yuan was banished from his state by the emperor. While in exile, Yuan learned of an impending invasion of his former hometown and, wading into the Miluo River, committed ritual suicide as a protest. Common folks, wanting to save Yuan, rushed out in fishing boats and in despair, beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles. Year after year, to remember Yuan, the Chinese would hold boat races on the day of his death in long, narrow, canoe-style vessels, adorned with carved ornamental heads and tails of dragons, believed to be rulers of rivers and seas.
Today, dragon boating involves 48-foot long boats, weighing 75 pounds, that hold 22 people. Drums keep all the paddlers in synchronization as each team fights to be first across the finish line.
In Campbell River, both dragon boat teams are more than just competitive – they are a support system.
“For most of us, our involvement in dragon boat racing came as a result of our having had cancer and then finding a venue that would allow us to live the rest of our lives to the fullest,” says Bryson. “Being involved in something that not only is a healthy lifestyle, but one that is in a supportive environment with others who have suffered through this disease and its treatments, is a true testament that there is life after cancer.”
The BraveHearts is Canada’s first co-ed team for people who have survived all types of cancer while River Spirit is a women’s breast cancer survivor team.
Sunday’s Race the River Dragon Boat Regatta is a joint effort between the two teams who have been working together tirelessly for months to organize and which Bryson says she hopes will be an annual event.
Midway through the event, a special ceremony will pay tribute to those affected by cancer.
“As is customary at all dragon boat festivals, there will be a special Carnation Ceremony at 12:30 p.m.,” says Bryson. “This ceremony always tugs at the hearts of those witnessing the event where the cancer survivors fill the boats at the shoreline with the spectators looking on and everyone shares in the throwing of flowers to the waters to think of friends and family who have lost their battle with cancer, while recognizing the courage and spirit of those who have survived.”
Food and refreshments will also be available at the event. Serious Coffee will provide drinks and treats and Marine Harvest will present a salmon barbecue. Local entertainers Peterout, Tintown, and Eric Benson and Gord Reimer will provide musical entertainment. Members of both local dragon boat teams will be at Spirit Square on July 1, with a dragon boat, to answer questions about the event, dragon boating and how to join a Campbell River team.